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Published: July 26th 2006
Bronze Buddhist Statue
Found in the Buddhist Temple at Songnisan.
This weekend, the Korean Fulbright office treated our group to a trip to Songni-san, a national park in the heart of Korea ("san" means mountain, so it's obviously a great place to hike and has several trails). It was a fabulous visit, replete with plenty of relaxation, hiking, and good food.
We left early on Friday, and it was about a three-hour bus ride. When we got there, Mrs. Shim, Korea Fulbright's executive director, took us all to lunch at a local restaurant. We all sat on the floor, cross-legged and shared all the little dishes that were placed on our tables (the traditional way of eating in Korea-- you get your own rice bowl, sometimes soup bowl, and then you share all the different dishes on the table).
That afternoon, Nika (another Fulbrighter) and I wandered the streets of Songni-san-- a lot of touristy shops, but it's a small town. We passed street vendors, mushroom shops (the specialty of the area), convenient stores, souvenier shops, restaurants, etc. I tried to talk with a couple of the shop owners, and halfway succeeded. We did run into a Korean couple who looked like hikers (the big thing to do at
Songni-san) and had a complete conversation in Korean-- talking about if we were students, telling them we're students now but also English teachers, that we're from the US, etc. It was very pleasant, and I felt rather accomplished.
Back at the hotel, which was right near the base of the mountain and the beginning of the hiking trails, we had a guest speaker come and talk with us about Buddhism. Songnisan is famous for the Buddhist temple (Beopju-sa) that is just at the base of the mountain. So, after we learned all about that, we got to go to the temple and observe the evening prayer service.
Beopju-sa was founded in 553 and has been expanded and rebuilt multiple times after that. The big thing about Beopju-sa, though, is the Buddha statue that stands over the whole complex. It is 33 meters tall, bronze, 150 tons, and is supposedly the largest such figure in Asia (stats taken from Moon Handbook Korea). The other big thing is the five-story wooden pagoda-- the only original large wooden pagoda in the country. There is also so much historical stuff there-- things that date from as early as 720 A.D. It was
quite amazing, and the buildings, scenery, etc., were all beautiful.
The Buddhist ceremony was interesting as well. One of the Buddhist monks in the main temple taught us how to properly bow during Buddhist prayer. We also observed their musical call to prayer from the Beomjonggak (the bell house), which used the Beopgo (the Dharma drum), the Beomjong (sacred Bell), the Mogeo (wooden fish), and the Unpan (an iron board).
That night, we were treated to dinner again-- this time outside and at picnic tables. I went to bed soon after dinner-- I was exhausted from a long week of Korean classes and other activities. We slept on the floor on yo's (a blanket/mat-like bed that is supposedly what most Koreans sleep on). It was definitely a new way of doing things.
The next day, I woke up at a decent hour and got a start on a morning hike-- and that turned into a ten-hour hike. I started on one of the less-used (and evidently tougher) trails to get to one of the mountain peaks. It took about 3 or 3.5 hours to get to the peak, and what a view! It was a little cloudy
View on the hike
Taken during the ridge/peak-to-peak hike.
but still beautiful.
Well, then, I decided I wanted to take the loop around (the ridge trail that connected two of the peaks together). So, I hiked that for a few hours. Then, I ate a late lunch with a bunch of other Fulbrighters, saw some more beautiful sights, and headed back down the mountain. It was so refreshing to see all that natural beauty. And it was also fun to run into the Korean hikers along the trails and have mini-conversations in half-English, half-Korean. It was quite enjoyable. I was utterly exhausted by the time I returned to the hotel. The hike probably totaled around 14km-- possibly a little longer. I don't have the exact total, but it definitely felt long-- but wonderful.
Sunday, Mrs. Shim and the Fulbright office took us to lunch at the same place as Friday-- this time with some different dishes in the mix. We headed out soonafter, but I was so happy to have had that chance to relax, get out in nature, and see such a beautiful place.
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